EM Ireland: Just the Facts – European Council, 15 December 2016
On 15 December, the leaders of the 28 EU Member States met for the final scheduled European Council meeting of the year. The agenda for the summit included migration, security, economy and youth, and external relations. The next formal European Council summit is scheduled to take place on 9-10 March 2017, with an informal meeting of the EU27 to take place on 3 February 2017.
The European Council looked at the implementation of the EU-Turkey statement, which was agreed in March 2016, and reiterated their commitment to it. The Council also assessed the progress on the agreements signed with five African countries of origin and transit under the Partnership Framework tool for addressing illegal migration, and called upon Member States to step up their engagement in this regard.
Leaders discussed the reform of the Common European Asylum System, welcoming where progress had been made while recognising that there was still work to be done. This work will be taken forward during the Maltese Presidency in 2017, with the aim of achieving consensus.
The European Council discussed the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement in light of the result of the Dutch referendum on the issue in April 2016. A Decision was taken to address concerns expressed prior to the referendum, including reassurances related to Ukraine’s accession status and security assistance. This Decision is intended to help clear the path for the Netherlands to ratify the Agreement, as all other Member States have done.
There was unanimous agreement to extend the sanctions on Russia until mid-2017, with a formal decision to be adopted in the coming days.
The situation in Syria was discussed as leaders condemned the continued assault on Aleppo by the Syrian regime and its allies and pledged to work constructively with all partners. Before the meeting, President of the European Council, Donald Tusk had met ‘the Mayor of Aleppo’, Mr Brita Hagi Hasan, and invited him to address the leaders directly.
Prior to the summit, President Tusk said that the aim of the European Council in relation to security was clear: “to strengthen Europe’s security in a challenging geopolitical environment, and to better protect our citizens”. Focus is on three priorities: the EU global strategy in the area of security and defence; the European Defence Action Plan; and implementation of the common set of proposals which follow up on the EU-NATO Joint Declaration signed in Warsaw in July 2016.
The European Council agreed on greater military cooperation, more defence spending, and improved EU-NATO cooperation. Leaders also agreed on tough deadlines for progress on internal security, notably on the European Commission’s proposal to pre-screen travellers from visa-free countries in conjunction with EU databases. NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, joined the beginning of the meeting to discuss EU-NATO cooperation.
Economic, Social Development and Youth
The European Council welcomed the agreement reached in the Council of Ministers on the extension of the European Fund for Strategic Investment (EFSI). Leaders reiterated the importance of the various Single Market strategies and the Energy Union, which should be completed and implemented by 2018, underlining the importance of completing the Banking Union in terms of reducing and sharing risk in the financial sector.
President Tusk invited Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank, to deliver a brief intervention and deliver his views on the economic recovery and outlook. President Draghi said that there was a pickup in 2016, but warned that 2017 was fraught with risk due to Brexit and the result of the US Presidential election.
A dinner to discuss Brexit, to which UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, had not been invited, did not take place as planned. Instead, the EU27 leaders held a 20 minute discussion on the issue. The subsequent statement from the leaders of the EU27, President Tusk and the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, reiterated that any agreement must include a balance between rights and obligations and that access to the Single Market would require acceptance of all four freedoms. The internal institutional procedures for the negotiations were also agreed.
Speaking after the summit, Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD clarified that there would be no bilateral agreement between Ireland and the UK. The Taoiseach said that the other EU leaders have been made aware of Ireland’s priorities in the Brexit negotiations.
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